Culture & Communication
INTRODUCTION BY ARNOLD R. ALANEN, PROFESSOR EMERITUS, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MADISON
« Like my ancestors, I left my home in search of love and better opportunities for work. I return to North Dakota, as on a pilgrimage, because the place haunts my dreams. I am compelled to photograph there and to share this familial landscape with others. No matter where I live, the farm will always be my center, my homeplace. »
Sarah Christianson, San Francisco, CA February 2013
« The search for home place is the mythical search for the axis mundi, for something to hang on to, » wrote Lucy Lippard in The Lure of the Local. For American photographer Sarah Christianson, home is a 1200acre farm in the Red River Valley of North Dakota, where her great-great-grandfather, Hans Olai Cornelius Christianson, immigrated to from Norway in 1869. Her parents are the fourth, and last, consecutive generation to work this land, as Sarah, and her siblings, chose to move away to pursue other careers. Sarah’s realization that she was part of a larger rural exodus provided her with the impetus to document their farm at this critical juncture. No longer the steady and constant place of her childhood, she wished to « reconcile its history with its uncertain future, and explore my relationship to this place. »
Homeplace (Daylight, October 2013) interweaves Sarah’s photographs of the Christianson farm and the farms of her Norwegian ancestors with old snapshots and historical documents culled from the family archive. For Sarah, the ancestral places in Norway that she visited serve as an « epilogue » for the Christiansons’ North Dakota farm. Sarah writes, « I wanted to retrace their steps so I could also inhabit the same places as my ancestors, if just for a moment … I thought that seeing what they saw and learning more about their experiences would inform my own experience. »
Sarah’s meticulously composed images capture work life all year round on the Christianson farm from spring planting to fall harvesting. Sarah’s mother and father are present in some of the photographs, but generally at a distance and hardly seen dominated by farm machinery. They are also shown in an intimate moment of relaxation on the front porch and posing for a portrait in the living room. Sarah captures the expansiveness of the landscape of the Red River Valley rectangular fields and geometric planting patterns, new saplings, and marks in the soil that reveal ghostly traces of earlier buildings. Other photographs hone in on details, such as the John Deere collection of Sarah’s father, the scratchy recordings of the heights of Sarah and her siblings on a closet door, photographs of the barn from the same vantage point in 1941 and 1953, the five year diary entries of Sarah’s great- grandmother, and the faint signature of her great-great-grandfather on the wall of a barn in Norway.
Homeplace creates a rich, multilayered narrative about family tradition, agriculture, emigration, and the passage of time. The result is a document that not only tells of hard toil and the declining role of the family farm in our economy, but that celebrates a resilient and fiercely independent tradition.
In his insightful and educational essay tracing the agricultural history and immigration to the United States of Sarah’s family entitled Norway to North Dakota: A Christianson Family Saga, Arnold R. Alanen concludes: « Clearly, dedication to a common economic pursuit such as farming, when undertaken by several generations of interrelated families in a clearly defined geographic space, represents the work, love, perseverance, pluck, and luck of many people. These situations deserve respect and consideration, something that Sarah clearly demonstrates through the pages of Homeplace. Other farms and families should be so fortunate. »
Dad’s John Deere collection, 2008
About the Artist:
Sarah Christianson (b. 1982) grew up on a four-generation family farm near Cummings, North Dakota. Immersed in that vast expanse of the Great Plains, she developed a strong affinity for the landscape and the stories it contains. This experience has had a profound effect on her work, as she enjoys creating narratives about place and personal experience through time, historical research, and the landscape. Her work has been exhibited internationally and can be found in the collections of several institutions in the Midwest and the National Museum of Photography in Copenhagen, Denmark. She received a BFA in photography from Minnesota State University Moorhead in 2005 and an MFA in photography from the University of Minnesota in 2009. Since then, Christianson has been living in San Francisco. She is the recipient of a 2013 Individual Artist Commission Grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission for her latest project, When the Landscape is Quiet Again, which documents the oil boom underway in western North Dakota. For more information about Sarah Christianson, go here.
Mom unloading soybeans, Shelly Elevator, 2008
Pre-Launch Event in New York During Photoville
Homeplace will have a prelaunch in New York City on Saturday, September 21, 2013 at Brooklyn Bridge Park, the site of the second annual Photoville, along with Daylight’s three other fall 2013 books by Katie Murray (All The Queens Men), Sara Macel (May the Road Rise to Meet You), and Henry Jacobson (Postcards Home). There will be a panel discussion with the four artists entitled Family Matters: Photography In Close Relation from 5:30 until 6:30 p.m., followed by a book party that also serves to celebrate Daylight’s 10th Anniversary. The events are in partnership with Photoville and the Brooklyn Book Festival. The party will feature live music by New Jersey based group Thomas Wesley Stern.
Hbk,10 x 8 inches
108 pgs; 10 color, 70 duotone
Daylight is a nonprofit organization dedicated to publishing art and photography books. By exploring the documentary mode along with the more conceptual concerns of fine art, Daylight’s uniquely collectible publications work to revitalize the relationship between art, photography, and the world-at- large. For information, visit www.daylightbooks.org. To check out Daylight Digital, visit www.daylightdigital.com.
In collaboration with Andrea Smith Public Relations – International PR